Political pundits generally view the mid-term national (legislative) and local (executive-legislative) elections on Monday, May 13, as a referendum on the performance of the Duterte administration in the first half of its six-year term.
More than that, however, the elections will determine the outcome on two crucial issues:
One, whether the Senate will retain its independence vis-a-vis the Executive’s all-too-evident drive to overreach its authority, thus eroding the constitutionally prescribed principle of checks and balances among the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary. With the House of Representatives acting as pliant surrogate of Malacanang, President Duterte is vigorously campaigning to attain control of the Senate too.
Two, whether the authentic representation of the “marginalized and underrepresented” sectors in the House of Representatives, as provided for under the partylist system by the 1987 Constitution, will be maintained and exercised mainly by the small but militant Makabayan bloc, which the Duterte regime specifically targets to obliterate.
After the last four elections, political dynasties, traditional politicians, and vested-interest groups accredited by the Comelec have dominated the partylist representation (20% of the House membership). This happened because the Supreme Court, in 2013, reversed its 2001 ruling upholding the social justice objective of the partylist system and opened it to all sorts of political parties.
Worse, in the May 13 elections, the Duterte government – through the DND/AFP, aided by the DILG/PNP, in stark violation of the Constitutional prohibition on electioneering – has openly campaigned through black propaganda, red-tagging, and other unfair means to defeat the five partylist groups constituting the Makabayan bloc.
As this column’s readers probably know, I have been involved with Bayan Muna since its founding as a national political party in September 1999, and the president of the Makabayan Coalition since its formation in April 2009. Thus I have absorbed the brunt of attacks against our organizations that seek to undermine our legitimacy and discredit us before the people. Notably, during the Arroyo regime (in 2006-2007), our partylist contingent in the House was hit by a preposterous rebellion case; more recently, even as I was part of a 17-member solidarity mission in Mindanao, we were arrested and detained on ludicrous charges of kidnapping and child abuse.
Gratifyingly, Bayan Muna and the other Makabayan partylist groups are surviving the red-tagging, the trumped-up charges, and the vicious psychological and physical attacks – including the extrajudicial killings that victimized hundreds of our partylist leaders, members, campaigners and supporters.
This is because more and more, our constituent sectors — the marginalized and underrepresented – as well as the millions of fellow Filipinos across the nation who are seeking genuine peace and social change, realize the necessity of supporting groups like ours. This is how we have survived and accumulated significant electoral gains.
Certainly, people also note that the leaders we offer have not been tainted by any whiff of corruption despite the nefarious opportunities offered by our traditional political system. Moreover, we have been truthful, forthright and aboveboard in presenting the kind of politics we stand for as we engage in discussions and debates in the parliamentary arena. We call it the Politics of Change: one that firmly stands for the majority of the Filipino people, who demand and fully deserve fundamental changes in our inequitable social, economic, political, and cultural conditions.
In my first privilege speech in the House on Sept. 3, 2001, I declared that Bayan Muna embodied “a political force with worldview and standpoint acknowledged as Leftist,” and that we wished to register our “independence from any traditional political party, bloc or coalition in the House of Representatives.”
In over half a century, I pointed out, it was the third time a political party of the Left had won seats in the country’s legislature. The first time was in 1947, when the Democratic Alliance won six congressional seats. The second was in 1987, when the Partido ng Bayan won two congressional seats. Those gains, however, were negated by reaction and terror.
The 1947 electoral victory was short-lived. Because the Democratic Alliance strongly opposed the Parity Rights Amendment to the Constitution, its representatives were unseated by the Roxas government on the basis of spurious charges of electoral fraud and terrorism. In the 1987 elections, the Partido ng Bayan became the victim of electoral terrorism: six of its congressional candidates were killed, along with 35 of the party’s campaigners.
For quite a while the specter of those negative experiences loomed over Bayan Muna. Certain political quarters made allegations that our party used force and threat to win votes. But Bayan Muna has been repeatedly proclaimed by the Comelec as among the top winners.
Certain factors rendered ineffectual the attempts to discredit Bayan Muna and prevent it from taking its three seats in the House on the same spurious ground used against the Democratic Alliance:
First, Bayan Muna is a mass-based political party which the Comelec verified to have organizations in 70 of the country’s 79 provinces. Most of its leaders and core members have consistently participated in the open democratic mass movement since the time of the Marcos dictatorship.
Second, Bayan Muna’s role had been publicly acknowledged and accepted – and formally recognized by the Arroyo government – as a significant part of the united political forces that fought to oust former President Joseph Estrada in early 2001. Our party did not ask for any position in the new government, opting to seek popular mandate through the electoral process.
Third, Bayan Muna garnered the highest number of votes among 153 partylist participants in the May 14, 2001 elections: 1.7 million votes, or more than 11% of the 15 million plus total votes cast for partylist bets. Our popular mandate couldn’t be brushed aside.
Since then, despite the odds, Bayan Muna and its spin-offs – Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Act-Teachers, and Kabataan Partylist – have earned a total of seven seats in the House, with a combined four million votes in the 2016 elections.
I am therefore reasonably confident that an increasingly enlightened electorate will enable the coalition and its advocacies to triumph again in Monday’s elections. Likewise I’m hopeful that an independent Senate will be ensured with the victory of 11 worthy candidates endorsed by Makabayan, foremost among them the feisty lawyer Neri Colmenares.
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Published in Philippine Star
May 11, 2019